Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thumbs Down: An Expert's Review Of SEWRPC's Housing Study Plan

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, after a nearly-34-year-delay, is about to begin a study of regional housing issues.

SEWRPC has finally published the study's scope of work, which outlines how the agency wants an advisory committee to proceed.

You can read it here.

It's an important document - - unfortunately prepared in secret without community input - - and I have posted several commentaries of my own about the scope, its drafting, and shortcomings, with the most recent February 11th.

In response, a knowledgeable Southeastern Wisconsin resident and reader sent me a further critique, which I am pleased to post, below, as it raises key issues that the housing advisory committee must address when it holds its first meeting on March 5th.

These issues are too important, and too much time between studies elapsed, for this process to begin down the wrong road.

The author cited in a self-description ongoing concern about "the future of Southeastern Wisconsin" and knowing "first hand the value of partnership and public participation through my work in community planning over the past 20 years in numerous locales."

This is not the first time that I have posted an anonymous commentary. I do this selectively when I am assured of the person's credibility, and, of course, I routinely post anonymous comments, too.

Here is the guest posting:

"I just read your Feb. 11 posting on the SEWRPC housing plan and read the scope of work; I see the scope of work slightly penetrate the intellectual "brick wall" there in terms of getting more relevant content and structure into the plan report. However, as you indicate, many deficiencies exist with regard to public participation and report content.

"The public participation aspect is quite predictable, and as you mention, and it enables SEWRPC staff to maintain control over the process. This approach detracts 80 percent or more from the relevance of such a housing study and its ability to have any influence, or create sufficient awareness of, a very important issue.

"Given that sad fact, very little value, if any, will be added to the taxpayer funds spent to undertake such an effort and important issues will go unaddressed in the needed comprehensive fashion.

"Without the added value, one could easily reason that the money should be spent on something else besides another useless document.

"What is sorely needed here is partnership with and direct participation from community organizations, universities, and various other knowledgeable people who can provide valuable insights and meaningful analysis to the effort. That's what will make it effective, useful, and in the public interest.

"Creating another document behind closed doors in Pewaukee, with limited expertise and no meaningful external input, is not effective, not in the public interest, and creates no value.

"As you mentioned, there is nothing in the proposed scope of work pertaining to mortgage financing or foreclosure issues. While this is a dynamic situation, and has been since late 2006, it is the single largest influence on housing affordability and availability today, and probably for at least 10 years to come.

"Unfortunately, it is understood by very few people, which makes formulating any kind of meaningful public policy/strategy impossible. These issues can be explained in everyday terms for people to understand, and included in the report so that informed decisions can be made. Nobody on the SEWRPC staff has a complete understanding of this subject, hence the need for outside partnerships, assistance, and co-authoring of a report.

"At the very least, the SEWRPC staff should recognize this as an important issue and admit they need help to address it.

"Finally, I take issue with the discussion of funding difficulties for housing planning, as described in the scope of work. As you mentioned, there was no difficulty in raising money needed to complete the water supply study.

"In addition, the management staff at SEWRPC has had no problem (or ethical dilemma) funding the recent purchase of automobiles for the exclusive use of themselves, including those who have "retired" from their positions. You've certainly addressed that issue in the past as well.

"What possible conclusions can be made, other than the obvious one that self-interests come before the public interest at SEWRPC.

"Management by ego makes for some really bad government. Southeastern Wisconsin is behind the curve in terms of regional planning, and not getting what we pay for. This puts us at a significant disadvantage relative to other regions of the U.S. in terms of economic development potential and quality of life. Given the area's many assets, that doesn't have to happen."


Anonymous said...

I have more hope for the Regional Housing Study than your expert. I have to, I am on SEWRPC's Regional Housing Study Advisory Committee.

Over the last 3 or so years, SEWRPC's former executive director and staff have asked for input from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council, regarding both the scope of work and the Advisory Committee. Based on the scope I can see that some of that feedback was incorporated. I know that other housing advocacy groups were also encouraged by SEWRPC to provide scope input.

The criticism made about the public participation plan may or may not be valid. I have not done municipal planning in over 10 years but I do remember the task of getting the public interested in planning was an enormous challenge. I hope that the Environmental Justice Task Force can play an important role in making sure the public input process is thorough and meaningful.

The expert also says that regional partnerships regarding housing are "sorely needed" in this planning process. We haven't had our first meeting yet (3/5/09 4pm at the Tommy Thompson Youth Center, State Fair Park)but I truly hope that the Regional Housing Study Advisory Committee can fill this role. I plan to work very hard toward that end.

Finally, a Socio-economic Impact Analysis is not included in SEWRPC's scope, but I will be one committee member that will be asking for it to be included in the Housing Study.

James Rowen said...

Thanks for the feedback, Kori. I want the work of the committee to be successful, and I give you and others credit for being willing to serve.

I am intrigued about your statement that the Council's input was sought on the study scope.

On one hand, that is encouraging to hear.

On the other hand, if that included reviewing the scope's draft(s), I would be upset about that because I asked to see the draft more than once and was told it was a purely internal document.

That said, let's all work for a solid study.